Swiss give nod to possible tax deal with the U.S.

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland has given the go-ahead to finalize a joint statement with the United States that it hopes will bring to an end a long, costly dispute over Swiss banks that have sheltered U.S. tax evaders.

The government said on Wednesday the signing of the joint statement should enable Swiss banks to resolve the dispute with the United States while complying with existing Swiss laws. It gave no further details.

The Swiss government is keen to end the dispute in which U.S. authorities have fined two Swiss banks for helping wealthy Americans evade tax and are investigating another dozen, while many more face probes for similar transgressions.

The Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) said the program would allow Swiss banks to settle any existing legal questions with the United States quickly and conclusively, while providing them with a clear legal basis to act.

"The SBA welcomes the positive outcome of the Federal Council's decision, as this means that the final step towards a solution has been taken and the U.S. can now launch the program," the SBA said in a statement.

The bankers' lobby added that the agreement would allow the banks to protect their employees to the best possible extent, without providing details.

(Reporting by Martin de Sa'Pinto; Editing by Mark Potter)